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Building future-proof digital asset management platforms

Digital asset management (DAM) tools can strengthen brand adherence, organize vast amounts of files and improve the full content experience. While it is the backbone of our website, it provides many more features. Most people are unaware of what a DAM is, how to implement one effectively and who benefits from a well-run digital asset management strategy. What is a DAM, anyway? A DAM is a Digital Asset Management tool.

A DAM is a system for collecting, storing, and organizing assets that are in digital form, such as photographs, logos, videos, music, etc.
DAM Glossary of common terms

When it comes to Thoughtworks, we have built our DAM in the Adobe Experience Manager platform, where it powers our website as well as housing our employee profile photos and the rest of our image library. We have worked across design, dev, brand, website and content teams to make sure our DAM is the single source of truth for our assets. Around the world, day or night, users are adding and editing assets to keep us current and our work rich with beautiful photography of our offices, diagrams illustrating complex subjects visually and pdfs of our latest publications for our site users to learn from our Thoughtworks authors.


Now that you understand what it does, what are the key steps to build and run a DAM successfully?


Interview stakeholders
Conduct content audit
Decide project scope
Set naming convention
Design DAM structure
Build tag library
Recommend governance policy
Plan translation strategy
Test small set of assets and pages
Migrate curated assets
Integrate into MarTech stack
Set review cadence

How to implement an effective DAM

A DAM is only as good as its structure. Like all structures, DAM structures are successful only when they include the needs of the people supporting them. When we were building the new DAM, we both interviewed the stakeholders across internal departments and incorporated guidance from outside partners.


What would we be including? What would we skip? What would we name these assets? How would we organize the folders? What tags would we use for discoverability? How could this new tool make our MarTech stack work smarter? Could this DAM improve collaboration? What were the existing pain points we wanted to leave in the past? 


Early in the process, we developed a mission statement for the DAM strategy:

Thoughtworks DAM mission statement

Create, share, and maintain a single source of truth to empower our Thoughtworks marketing team and our industry partners with the best content and assets that are current, brand-aware, and strengthen our operational infrastructure.

When prioritizing tasks, referring back to this strategy value statement helped ensure the right work was started first. It’s difficult to redo naming conventions after 56,953 assets are renamed; better to lock that down early. Since DAM platforms are fairly flexible, last minute additions of new content can be accommodated once the structure is outlined. Communicating these decisions broadly will help answer questions that could become bottlenecks of the DAM product owner. 


Sometimes a DAM will be created from scratch, with brand new assets to upload. But in our case (and I’d say more commonly at this point of DAM adoption), the project will need to migrate assets from an existing platform. Also in our case, the DAM powered the website CMS (content management system), so instead of a “lift and shift” 1-to-1 move, we used the opportunity to review existing assets and structures.


  • Tossed what no longer served us - whether it was off-brand, redundant or outdated. 


  • Mapped both pages and assets to the new site structure.


  • Renamed approved assets with a uniform naming convention.

Who benefits from a well-run DAM strategy?


In short: the whole enterprise. But in particular, the DAM is a benefit to the content, dev, brand, creative teams and Thoughtworks as whole. The DAM is a backbone, but it can’t succeed without constant review and user adoption. So this value has to be felt across our teams.


Content a place to store, find and share assets for site pages and other editorial priorities
Dev clear mapping to pages and structure to guide builds
Brand aids brand adherence and provides reference to the latest, approved images, documents and other assets
Creative highlights work and prevents redoing assets while providing source images for designs 
All Thoughtworks (especially Demand) results in a site that reflects the best of our company and what we do; from client stories, to insights from our colleagues



For the DAM product owner and digital content experience team, the benefits are more complex but just as rewarding. The value of the assets themselves is huge - building right site pages requires organizing countless images and documents and without a DAM, each one would need to be managed locally and work repeated whenever an asset was reused. For example, a profile image of a member of our leadership team can be featured in their bio, as well and whenever they host an event, lead a service line or are quoted in an article. Since we devised a clear naming convention  and structure, we can search and source all the assets used in a campaign and replace them (using the same name) seamlessly if our brand design is refreshed or new wording is needed. On a community level, this has allowed our team to serve as a hub both communicating new features, areas of content and changes across the marketing organization. This connection might be the best benefit of all. 


Futureproofing a DAM


After either launching a new DAM or replacing an existing one, day 2 is just as important. Answering questions about who will have access to the platform, when the structure will be reviewed, and how existing parts of the MarTech stack (such as creative tools, analytics, asset sharing or other platforms) will integrate can help the DAM remain a living resource. 


Add processes for review - for example, we have a monthly photo library email to each regions’ stakeholders who have more knowledge of the assets’ continued value. Prepare to add new areas of content as needed - whether that is for a new site component or internal design brainstorming. Keeping the DAM as a living system through consistent review is the only way to prevent it from becoming a dead archive.


Nothing is totally futureproof, but we can try to build a DAM in a way that it can adapt to changes. Aside from the assets themselves, a metadata plan and tag library can increase the searchability and potential for reuse of DAM assets as well as other areas of the CMS platform. For example, adding the “legacy modernization” tag to both the naming of this blog and the assets it contains will make it simpler to do a search and find similar content. As more assets are added, tagged and used in multichannel applications in addition to the site, the DAM will continue to manage the influx since it was built to scale.


Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.